My chickens love watermelon and cataloupe on hot summer days and equally like to slurp up oven roasted squashes as the season transitions into fall and winter. I accidentally found out they really like pumpkin one year when I tossed an old jackolantern towards the edge of the woods and it broke open- they cleaned it out in no time, right down to the rind. A year later I put one in the pen, same thing. This year I decided to cook one up like I would any other leftover squash, and it sure made a rainy week all better.
Roasting anything is so easy. Line a roasting pan with foil, spray with a little nonstick spray, place a cut open gourd, squash, or pumpkin open side down, and fill with about an inch of water.
This goes into a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or so, mostly just to get it softened up. You can poke the skin with a knife or fork and see if it’s easy to pierce. I caught this one about five minutes before it would’ve been so soft that it would have fallen apart, about an hour. As soon as you can easily pierce the skin, remove it from the oven.
This is the most important part for ease later- flip that onto its back as soon as you can. If you let it cool even for five minutes first, it will seal down to the pan like a lid on a hot jelly jar. Slide a fork under the rim and very carefully lift so steam won’t burn you or you don’t splash hot liquid on yourself, ease it up and over onto its back. Now walk off and leave it however long you want because it’s too hot to do anything else with. Also, this gives it time to steam out a little. All squash will continue to ‘melt’ and collect a syrupy liquid, so the more it can steam and air out, the better.
After it has cooled enough to handle, carefully lift and slide it over onto a plate. In case it’s soft enough to fall apart, don’t lift very much or move too quickly. After it’s on the plate, I sometimes shred it a little with a fork so the chickens can start digging in when they get it. I think they have more fun when they have to work at it, though, because it’s so boring sometimes, and really, what else does a chicken have to do?
Since my hens have been stuck in the pen during a rainy week instead of out chasing bugs, I tossed a can of tuna onto the pumpkin for a protein boost. Getting all of one’s protein from grain isn’t necessarily the healthiest diet, and a little extra protein from something else once or twice a week definitely perks them up. Today it was tuna. Sometimes it’s a little bit of leftover burger or old shredded cheese. Protein nibblies! Please keep in mind these are NOT daily meal supplements, just once in awhile snacks. Overfeeding chickens ‘people food’ can result in malnutrition and impacted crop, which can cause death. If you see a chicken gorging, remove the food. Gorging might also indicate an underlying problem such as parasites, illness, or stress. By the way, as I set that pumpkin down on the ground, I bore through the skin in several places with a fork so the liquid could drain instead of sitting there getting muddy and fermenting. Makes the pumpkin easier to slurp up over the next 24 hours.
Chickens walk around while they eat, changing places and circling, darting in and out, keeping an eye on each other in case someone else has a better bite. It’s fun to watch chickens take turns checking out new snacks, tasting and nibbling, talking to each other comparing notes like foodies in a Cheesecake Factory.
Healthy chickens that aren’t stressed out will do this until they get bored again, which is actually fairly quickly, and it’s not long until the circle widens back out and next thing you know they’re thinking about shopping and talking about maybe hitting the salon. They will come back to the pumpkin once in awhile for a few more bites here and there.
Some of you wish really bad that you could have chickens so you could watch them. Here are some videos.
Notes for people new to raising chickens-
Chickens are connoisseurs of a large variety of foods by nature and aren’t made to live off leftover garden produce like herd animals that graze. They also need fairly large amounts of denser proteins in order to keep pumping large amounts of protein right back out into eggs and still be able to keep healthy feather growth, healthy tissues, and healthy immune systems. I know it’s trendy nowadays to demand that chickens be fed an all-vegetable and grain diet lacking in animal products, but consider that our demand on them for eggs and their genetic enhancements that allow them to do that for us more often than they would in the wild actually make it difficult for them to live well if they live on the edge of nutrition deficit. It’s ok to supplement with snacks, but make sure one food group isn’t edging another one out and causing a nutritional imbalance. The best supplement to regular feed is getting to run around eating bugs and greens, and maybe the occasional small reptile, which is full of calcium because it has a skeleton. Chickens are opportunistic and will also eat mice if they are hungry enough, which isn’t a good idea because wild mice carry disease. If you allow your chickens to free range, make sure you don’t spray pesticides or use chemical fertilizers where they roam, because it will wind up in your eggs.
If your chickens eat every scrap of food you give them and don’t look or act well, like missing feathers that never grow back and pecking on each other, they might not be getting enough to eat, or lacking a specific kind of nutrient. Some people find that feeding chickens a little bit of meat will help with this. If your chickens won’t eat food you put in the pen, they either can’t handle eating it or they are too full of food already and becoming fat, which will slow down egg laying. If they are leaving food laying around to mold, remove it because moldy food can make them very sick. Chickens like to alternate actively foraging and napping through the day, and the exercise they get foraging helps keep their stress levels down when they’re back in the pen. If they must stay in the pen, keep the snacks small so you can distract them with something fun and different more often. Sometimes a head of lettuce is the bomb when chickens are bored.